Despite the relentless efforts from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his administration, it appears the Lucas Museum may not have its debut here in Chicago -- at least not at this present moment.
Friends of the Park (FOTP) often mocked as "friends of the parking lot" (you'll see the significance of this a little further down), is a non-profit organization that gate keeps and preserves parks throughout Chicago. They have been in a locked-horns battle with Mayor Emanuel in his efforts to build the Lucas Museum on Chicago's lakefront property.
According to the Lucas Museum's website, it will be a barrier-free museum where artificial divisions between "high" art and "popular" art are absent, allowing you to explore a wide array of compelling visual storytelling. But there's only one problem, FOTP does not think the museum should be built on lakefront property.
Currently, the site is a parking lot.
Yes, it is literally a parking lot, settled between Soldier's Field and McCormick Place.
It's not a park.
No landmark status. Not even grass.
It's a parking lot that does not get used a majority of the year.
So let's examine this for a moment, shall we?
George Lucas, the multi-billionaire creator of Star Wars and Indiana Jones, was willing to write a check for over $700 million to leverage a $1.2 billion bond sale to kickstart the project. The loan payment would be made with funds generated by the museum, making the risk nearly zero for taxpayers.
You read that right; No taxpayer funds needed to build the museum. No risk to taxpayers, with the largest contributor to building costs being Lucas, himself. There is a golden opportunity for the cash-strapped city of Chicago to generate revenue, without raising taxes. Am I missing something here?
In my opinion, Mayor Emanuel got this one right.
This museum will be built; either in Chicago or some other city. Why not build something that will create construction jobs and many permanent jobs as well? What is the harm in building this museum? What's the real motive behind Friends of the Park?
Kyle Hillman, a former board member of Meetings Professionals International, a social media consultant and community organizer had this to say;
Losing the Lucas museum is unfortunate because it will genuinely hurt the dedicated workers in the service area who need the city to invest in new tourist attractors. However, the utter collapse of Choose Chicago should be a greater concern. Chicago can't afford to lose momentum; our city relies too heavily on service industry to help people move into the middle class. We can live without Lucas, but we can't continue to disinvest in tourism and conventions.
Choose Chicago is the tourism bureau that's charged with marketing and attracting tourist and major conventions. The board is made up of business and civic leaders as well as a few elected officials. Under the leadership of CEO Don Welsh, Choose Chicago was able to increase visitation to Chicago significantly.
Unfortunately, no good deed goes unpunished and Choose Chicago faced a financial hardship when Springfield withheld $7.2 million due to budget crisis. Welsh, consequently, had to lay off nearly 25 percent of the employees. And just a few months ago, Welsh left Choose Chicago to become CEO of the Washington D.C based tourism advocacy group called, Destination Marketing Association International.
Needless to say, tourism is an important factor for Chicago. It is a way to raise funds without "nickel and dimming" the taxpayers.
When it's all said and done, the court battle between Mayor Emanuel's administration and Friends of the Park, is all over the utilization of a parking lot.
In ten years, I hope we won't be celebrating the time we almost got the Lucas Museum, like we are this year, with the Olympics... we have to do better.